The Pain of Family Secrets

Every family has secrets. Some are eventually revealed; others emerge at the worst time possible. A funeral. A wedding.

Some people carry secrets to the grave.

My friend found out several years ago that the son he thought was his biological child was not. The child’s mother, who lived in another city, probably knew all along. She also knew my friend would be a better father and provider than the man who really impregnated her.

The secret was revealed by a paternity test. Not Maury Povich style; just a call from an attorney who suggested the paternity test when the boy’s mother decided she wanted more child support. Momma needs a new car, she told her son.  The move backfired in a big way.

I have known about this child since the woman called my friend and told him she was pregnant. From that moment, David (not his real name), readied his mind to become a father. He was nervous, and even briefly considered marrying the woman.  When his son was born, there was no reason to question paternity. He had pudgy little cheeks and large hands — he even looked like David, who threw everything he had into being a good father.

Then came the revelation. David considered ending child support payments and suing her; but realized he that would only hurt his son. And make no mistake, the child is his son in every sense of the word. He’s just not his sperm donor.

Still, there is pain. His son, now in his early 20s, has never been told. David, who plans to tell him soon, knows this secret could cause his son to question whether everything in his life has been a lie.

Most secrets cause permanent damage. My friend Connie told me about a women she interviewed who had been sexually abused by a male relative who babysat her while her parents worked. The abuse started when she was 8 years old and she never told anyone. As is often the case, her abuser made her believe she was to blame for what happened. Years later, when she told a police officer what happened, the man tried to run her down with his car.

When she had children, she sat them down and told them they should always tell if someone touches them inappropriately. Silence allows abusers to have the upper hand. And many of them convince themselves that what they are doing is somehow justified. The only way to break the cycle is to educate children and be honest about past secrets. There is also healing in revealing secrets. When we give voice to our emotions and past experiences, good or bad, we are releasing them into the universe. Only then can we move on with our lives.

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